October is nationally recognized as Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, which draws attention to
an important life-threatening heart emergency. Knowing the signs of sudden cardiac arrest and taking
quick action can save a loved one’s life.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.1 In Hawai’i, Emergency Medical Service teams respond to nearly 1,100 cases of cardiac arrest (outside of a hospital setting) and only nine percent of those victims survive.2 Sudden cardiac arrest can lead to death in minutes, but when those who are nearby provide lifesaving procedures, such as giving CPR or using an AED, the survival rates can double or triple.
Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating, and blood is no longer pumped throughout the
body or to the brain. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shares the following personal
- Collapse suddenly and lose consciousness (pass out)
- Not breathing, or breathing is ineffective, or they are gasping for air
- Do not respond to shouting or shaking
- Do not have a pulse
Sudden cardiac arrest can be the first indication of a heart problem and affect people of any age,
including those who appear to be healthy. However, it is more common in those who have existing
heart conditions such as coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, and heart failure. The risk of sudden
cardiac arrest also increases with age.
Be Prepared for Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Every second counts with sudden cardiac arrest. In seven out of ten cases, the sudden cardiac arrest
victim is at home.4 With quick action and knowledge of what to do in this life-threatening emergency,
you can save a loved one’s life. The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation recommends these steps5:
Call 911 for Help
When someone is unresponsive and not breathing normally, call 911. The emergency dispatcher can
provide critical lifesaving instructions.
Push to Triple the Chance for Survival
Start CPR immediately. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest. Place one of your hands over
the other hand and keep your elbows straight. You will need to push about two inches down each
time at a rate of 100-120 pumps per minute. An easy way to keep track of pumps is by pumping to
the beat of a song like “Stayin’ Alive” or “Baby Shark.” Continue CPR until EMS and medical
Learn more about ‘Hands-Only CPR’ and see it demonstrated on this episode of Ask a Specialist with The Queen’s Medical Center.
Shock to Restart the Heart
Use an AED, or an automated external defibrillator. This lightweight device checks for a heart rhythm to determine if defibrillation is needed. These are commonly located in public buildings such as offices, schools, shopping centers and airports. AEDs are meant for anyone to use. They are safe and effective with audio or visual instructions.
More information about AEDs is available in this fact sheet from the American Heart Association.
Training and certification are also available for CPR and AEDs. Taking a course can help prepare you to know what to do and feel more comfortable while conducting these life-saving techniques. Quick action during sudden cardiac arrest can be the difference between life and death.